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North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD; , ) is a joint organization of Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries. It was founded on May 12, 1958 (the effect of the Cold War) as a joint command between the governments of Canada and the United States, as the North American Air Defense Command. Its main technical facility has been the Cheyenne Mountain Directoratemarker, formerly Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, of the Cheyenne Mtn. Air Force Station, Coloradomarker; and for this reason NORAD is sometimes referred to as Cheyenne Mountain. In addition, the Canada East and Canada West Sector Air Operations Control Centres are located in the underground complex at Canadian Forces Base North Baymarker in Ontario, Canada.

NORAD's headquarters facilities in Colorado are administered by the U.S. Air Force under the command of the 721st Mission Support Group, part of the 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Basemarker. NORAD's forces consist of the Alaskan NORAD Region/Eleventh Air Force, Canadian NORAD Region, and Continental NORAD Region.



NORAD Headquarters Building.
The growing perception of the threat of long-range Sovietmarker strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons brought the U.S. and Canada into closer cooperation for air defense. While attacks from the Pacificmarker or Atlanticmarker would have been detected by Airborne Early Warning aircraft, Navy ships, or offshore radar platforms, the Arctic was underprotected. In the early 1950s the U.S. and Canada agreed to construct a series of radar stations across North America to detect a Soviet attack over the Arctic. The first series of radars was the Pinetree Line, completed in 1954 and consisting of 33 stations across southern Canada. However, technical defects in the system led to more radar networks being built. In 1957, the McGill Fence was completed; it consisted of Doppler radar for the detection of low-flying craft. This system was roughly north of the Pinetree Line along the 55th parallel. The third joint system was the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line), also completed in 1957. This was a network of 58 stations along the 69th parallel. The systems gave around three hours' warning of a bomber attack before they could reach any major population center.

The command and control of the massive system then became a significant challenge. Discussions and studies of joint systems had been ongoing since the early 1950s and culminated on August 1, 1957, with the announcement by the U.S. and Canada to establish an integrated command, the North American Air Defense Command. On September 12, operations commenced in Colorado. A formal N.O.R.A.D agreement between the two governments was signed on May 12, 1958.

On June 16, 1961, the official groundbreaking ceremony was held at the construction site of the NORAD Combat Operations Center (COC). Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, NORAD Commander, and Lt. Gen. Robert Merrill Lee, ADC Commander, simultaneously set off symbolic dynamite charges.

Cold War and false alarms

By the early 1960s, about 250,000 personnel were involved in the operation of N.O.R.A.D. The emergence of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) threat in the early 1960s was something of a blow. In response, a space surveillance and missile warning system was constructed to provide worldwide space detection, tracking and identification. The extension of N.O.R.A.D.'s mission into space led to a name change, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in March 1981.

From 1963, the size of the U.S. Air Force was reduced, and obsolete sections of the radar system were shut down. However, there was increased effort to protect against an ICBM attack; two underground operations centers were set up, the main one inside Cheyenne Mountainmarker and an alternate at North Bay, Ontariomarker. By the early 1970s, the acceptance of mutual assured destruction doctrine led to a cut in the air defense budget and the repositioning of NORAD's mission to ensuring the integrity of airspace during peacetime. There followed significant reductions in the air defense system until the 1980s, when, following the 1979 Joint US-Canada Air Defense Study (JUSCADS) the need for the modernization of air defenses was accepted—the DEW Line was to be replaced with an improved Arctic radar line called the North Warning System (NWS); there was to be the deployment of Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar; the assignment of more advanced fighters to NORAD, and the greater use of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Tinker Air Force Basemarker in Oklahomamarker or Elmendorf Air Force Basemarker in Alaskamarker. These recommendations were accepted by the governments in 1985. The United States Space Command was formed in September 1985 as an adjunct but not a component of NORAD.

Even though all equipment in Cheyenne Mountain was put through a rigorous inspection, on at least two occasions, failure in its systems could have potentially caused nuclear war. On November 9, 1979, a technician in NORAD loaded a test tape but failed to switch the system status to "test", causing a stream of constant false warnings to spread to two "continuity of government" bunkers as well as command posts worldwide. A similar incident occurred on June 2, 1980, when a computer communications device failure caused warning messages to sporadically flash in U.S. Air Force command posts around the world that a nuclear attack was taking place. Both times, Pacific Air Forces properly had their planes (loaded with nuclear bombs) in the air; Strategic Air Command did not and took criticism because they did not follow procedure, even though the SAC command knew these were almost certainly false alarms (as did PACAF). Both command posts had recently begun receiving and processing direct reports from the various radar, satellite, and other missile attack detection systems, and those direct reports simply didn't match anything about the erroneous data received from NORAD.

Post-Cold War

At the end of the Cold War NORAD reassessed its mission. To avoid cutbacks, from 1989 NORAD operations expanded to cover counter-drug operations, especially the tracking of small aircraft entering and operating within America and Canada, thereby contradicting General Richard Myers' statement in his testimony to the 9/11 Commission where he said NORAD was directed "looking outward" on 9/11 (although commercial flights were not perceived to be threats). But the DEW line sites were still replaced, in a scaled-back fashion by the North Warning System radars between 1986 and 1995. The Cheyenne Mountain site was also upgraded. However, none of the proposed OTH-B radars are currently in operation.

September 11, 2001

Since the founding of NORAD in 1958 the defense organization has had three missions:
  • Surveillance and Control of the airspace covering the United States and Canada;
  • Warning the National Command Authorities of an aerospace attack approaching the North American continent; and
  • Providing a proper response to an aerospace attack approaching the North American continent.
NORAD's first mission of surveillance and control of the airspace within the continent is called Air Sovereignty. In an attempt to explain NORAD's poor performance in the attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush Administration officers claimed that NORAD was never tasked to monitor the skies inside America, that the defense agency was tasked to "looking outward" on 9/11 only, contradicting the historical fact that NORAD never ceased its "inward looking" mission of "Air Sovereignty".


The Commander of NORAD is always American and simultaneously heads USNORTHCOM, while the Deputy Commander is always Canadian.List of commanders:

Recent deputy commanders include:

Notable popular culture

NORAD comes to public attention at Christmas, when it tracks Santa Claus on his journey around the world delivering toys for the world's children. This tradition started in 1955 when a local Sears store in Coloradomarker misprinted the telephone number and children thought they were calling Santa, but actually were calling Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD's predecessor) instead.

Cheyenne Mountain was the central setting of the 1983 motion picture WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a teenager who hacked NORAD's main computer and almost started a global thermonuclear war.

Cheyenne Mountain is also the main setting of the Stargate Universe serving as the Command Center for all Stargate Operations in the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as the Thunder Mountain home of the protagonists in the post-apocalyptic series Jeremiah.

See also



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